Built in 1937 as the Honolulu home of American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke (1912-1993), Shangri La was inspired by Duke’s extensive travels throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and reflects architectural traditions from India, Iran, Morocco and Syria. Today, Shangri La is a museum for Islamic arts and cultures, with the purpose of improving understanding of the Islamic world.
Duke’s passions varied wildly. Briefly a news correspondent in the 1940s, she also played jazz piano and learned to surf competitively. Needless to say this was rather unusual for an upper-class white women in the 1930’s. After the war, she moved to Paris and wrote for the magazine Harper's Bazaar.
Duke acquired a number of homes including "Falcon Lair" in Beverly Hills, once home of the seductive sheik of early Hollywood, Rudolph Valentino. Sometimes referred to as the “the richest girl in the world”, twice-divorced Duke enjoyed a legendary life while her philanthropic work in AIDS research continued into old age. The events surrounding her possible murder remain shrouded in mystery (did the butler do it?) making Duke one of the most interesting and controversial celebrities of the twentieth century. Her estimated $1.3 billion fortune was largely left to charity.